In one of the more poetic moments of the Chronicles of Narnia, a guinea pig slips through the fabric of our world and finds itself in a transcendental woodland dotted endlessly with ponds. All is still. It later turns out that each pond is home to a separate universe. Our fluffy hero is a sort of unwitting higher-dimensional cosmonaut.
The vision of "the wood between the worlds" has stuck with me ever since I first read it as a child. But I now think that, in a genuine sense, we live in the wood. Surrounding us on all sides in our fractal world are swirling depths of life evolving, each complicated enough to be a world in itself. Millions of tiny fungi are hurling microcosmic lassos around passing nematode worms, driven by proteinaceous conversations between unseen genes; trillions of bacteria float in ethereal silence through private watery voids; miniature spiders are adventuring through the atmosphere suspended beneath diaphanous balloons of silk; ascomycetes in plumes of Saharan dust are wafting through Atlantic skies; and Demodex mites are crawling over the creases and follicles beneath your eyelashes like crampon-wielding explorers struggling over crevasses. Meanwhile, photons are careering into your retinas, splashing through oceans of rhodopsin eight minutes after erupting from nuclear explosions on the surface of the sun; behind your eyes, explosions of sodium ions are ushering action potentials down a filigree lacework of nerves; leaf-mining insects are scrawling their wavy signatures through two-dimensional flatlands; strepsipteran females, shrunken by relentless selection to lumps of ovary-bearing fat, jut from the stergites of paper-wasps; and we ourselves are navigating the world as nearly-chimaeric beings part-composed of bacterial cells vastly outnumbering our own. Our own universe is the "wood between the worlds" - and we can peer into each world-pond and find "caverns measureless to man".
We really should refuse to be sedated by the "anaesthetic of familiarity". However mad it sounds, life is dancing around us in a richness that defies belief. It makes you want to laugh.
Adventures of a
Dr Patrick Kennedy, Radford Lab, University of Bristol | Zoology